Gameboy Advance Impressions

Nintendo's next portable was announced at SpaceWorld 2000. Fortunately, unlike the GameCube, there were plenty of systems on display for the eager people like myself to try out. While leaving the games themselves to their own impressions, I wanted to give an impression of the portable itself. Unlike full sized consoles, where physical parameters are relatively unimportant, a portable needs to have a good look, a good feel, and most importantly, a small size without losing a good display.

The Game Boy, and later the Game Boy Pocket and Game Boy Color fit these requirements admirably for many years. Many other portables came and went, but the Game Boy series continued to run strong throughout most of its history. However, while making them smaller, making clearer displays, and later color displays, the shape and layout never really changed. All the buttons were in the same location, which while it made the systems easily interchangeable, in time people realized there is room for much improvement.

The Game Boy Advance shows those improvements, and more. I was amazed at how light and slim it turned out to be. Turned sideways, it was about the same dimensions as my Game Boy Color, but about twice as thin, and considerably lighter, yet very sturdy. The display was crisp, and the sound through the headphones was excellent, playing in full stereo will no interruption for sound effects like the Game Boy Color suffers from.

The return of the four-player mode was also a welcome sight. Ever since Game Boy Pocket's release, there had been no way to play four player games like the old favorite F1 Race that introduced the adapter the first time. Now, instead of an adapter, all new Advance cables can be linked with another cable up to four. They had Mario Kart Advance set up this way, and it was a great experience.

My one complaint was how the new L and R buttons were placed. With such a small device, I inherently wrapped my fingers around it. Because of its size, you can only really hold it on top with one finger per hand. With fingers wrapped around it, I found I was inadvertently pressing down on L/R at random times in the game. Because the buttons run all the way to the edge, and then even around the corner a bit, there is not really way to hold the portable securely without pressing those buttons. Had they backed them off the corners, and simply had raised ones, like the SNES had, it may have been a slightly better design. I'm sure in time, I'll learn a new way to hold it, but for the show, that became a problem quite a few times.

The absence of a Pokémon title was puzzling, but since the Advance is backwards compatible, I'm sure Pokémon will be running on these new machines in no time. While there was no mention of enhanced gameplay, since the screen is a different shape and size, it will be interesting to see if there is an improvement factor when playing the old games on this new portable.

Overall, it's exactly what people expected. It has considerably more power than the Game Boy Color. The display is larger, and much more refined. There was even a game or two that showed the characters and the world in three-dimensional form. For a portable, to show these so clearly was impressive. The sound is very much improved, and the line-up for launch looks fairly good. As the launch dates gets closer, perhaps the titles not shown will be closer to complete, boosting the launch list considerably. I know I'm not going to be the only one importing in March.

by Mikel Tidwell    
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